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Arafat's Body Arrives in Cairo, Funeral Set for Friday


The body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died early Thursday in a Paris hospital, has been flown from France to Egypt. Preparations are under way in Cairo for a memorial service for Mr. Arafat.

The body of the Palestinian leader arrived in Cairo Thursday evening, after receiving a solemn military send-off in a ceremony at the French Villa Coublay airport.

On Thursday morning, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak paid tribute to Yasser Arafat during the opening session of the Egyptian parliament.

Mr. Mubarak offered Egypt's condolences to the Palestinian people, describing Mr. Arafat's death as a heavy loss for the Arab and Islamic nations.

The Egyptian parliament observed a moment of silence in honor of Mr. Arafat. Egypt has declared three days of official mourning, and will host a memorial service for Mr. Arafat on Friday morning, at which the Palestinian leader will receive official military honors.

The ceremony will take place at 11 o'clock local time Friday morning at the al Galaa mosque. Heads of state of most Arab countries and foreign ministers from around the world are expected to attend the ceremony. European Union High Representative Javier Solana and U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns will also attend. Heightened security measures are in place around the airport and in the city itself.

Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki says Cairo was an obvious choice for Mr. Arafat's memorial.

"This is a man who has had very, very close links with Egypt throughout his life, not only political but also personal," said Hossam Zaki.

Mr. Arafat was born 24 August 1929. He grew up in Cairo and Jerusalem and attended the University of Faud I, later Cairo University, before abandoning his studies at 19 to dedicate himself to the Palestinian resistance.

Egypt has been a friend and supporter of Mr. Arafat's throughout most of his career, and has played a key role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Some in Egypt have criticized Mr. Arafat's leadership. In the government-backed Al Ahram newspaper, columnist Anis Mansour recently wrote that "we in Egypt will not forget that Yasser Arafat broadcast the [Um Kulthoum] song Rejoice my Heart when [Egyptian] President [Anwar] Sadat was assassinated."

But in general, Egyptians associate Mr. Arafat with the Palestinian struggle, with which they have great sympathy. As the head of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Mohamed Abdel Moneim Saiid, also wrote in the pages of Al Ahram, "it has become difficult to talk about the Palestinian state and the Palestinian cause without talking about Arafat."

The official ceremony on Friday will be held under tight security and will not be open to the public. But many ordinary Egyptians are expected to gather in downtown Cairo in front of the Al Azhar mosque after Friday prayers to express their sadness over Mr. Arafat's death and their solidarity with the Palestinian people.

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